Fire  has a major role in the process of human evolution, development of language, socialization, technologies. Civilization would not be possible without fire.  And matches  made much easier its  lighting.




Salt shaped civilization from the very beginning.  It is so essential to the humans that did conciderably influence the history of mankind. 




The history of sugar is linked with  ruthless profiteering, colonial ambitions, human labor and  tragedy. It was once a medicine, a panacea kept in locked box by those who could afford it, and an exotic, rare, costly luxury. 




  Olive oil is not only a staple in the diet of the olive producing regions, but is also a key component of Greek identity. It is tied to many folk and religious rituals and holds a special symbolic significance in the crucial events in the cycle of life.   


In 1897, matches, salt, sugar and olive oil  were some of the Greek state monopolies. But Greece in order to service the public debt assigned to the Internationl Financial Control- which was imposed after 1893 bankarptcy-  left the profits of the monopolies and the custom duties of the port of Piaraeus   to the creditors.   Greeks  experienced the consequences of that bunkruptcy and the cruelty of debt  until 1978.

It may sound bizarre, but if fire, olive oil and salt are symbols of civilization and sugar is a symbol of pure pleasure,  the imposition of the IFC on these commodities  seemed  like the symbol of a leap away from the civilized life.




“We will not allow it to be said again ‘Regretfully, we are bankrupt’. I will give, we will give our all in order to save the country,” prime minister George Papandreou said, referring  to the phrase “Regretfully, we are bankrupt” with which  prime minister Harilaos Trikoupis had announced in 1893  that the Greek government was unable  to cover the repayment of its debts. Greece already had declared two bankruptcies in 1827 and 1843  and that one was not going to be the last one. In 1932, a time of global economic crisis,  Greece was led again to bankruptcy… its last loan repaid on 1967. 

Four bankruptcies,   International Financial Control Commissions overseeing the payment of the country’s large external debts, foreign interventions in internal affairs…. since independence, Greece has had a short history of precious autonomy.  

File:Oil painting of the Greek Parliament, at the end of the 19th century, by N. Orlof.jpg

Oil painting of a session of the Parliament, with P.M. Harilaos Trikoupis at the podium. Late 19th century.

It is interesting  that the memories of the 1893 bankruptcy are not forgotten.  
An economic crisis caused by the closure of the French market of the currants- which was the most important Greek export item-  and the overproduction of the fruit, prooved disastrous both to the Greek state and to the rural Greece.  The urban districts were affected too, since many citizens had lent large sums to the currant farmers to enable them to carry on new plantations.  
The currant crisis, the excessive borrowing  and the effects of the Long Depression soon were transformed into a huge  income crisis   and  contributed to the bankruptcy of the Greek government.  The subsequent few years were extremely harsh for the Greeks since the national economic crisis was combined with political instability, social unrest and massive emigration, especially to the United States and to the big cities. 

And when serious economic chaos occurs, the impact on food is obvious enough:  many people  don’t have money to buy it and many families find themselves dealing with dramatic situations. 

However, cookbooks published during this period  don’t reflect the reality of hard times. The recipes call for the best ingredients and  only a few of them are really cheap,  just as they always had been;   Addressed to the upper and middle class, who experienced hardship but could afford to buy food, cookbooks also offered a kind of escape choosing to be rich in spirit than providing instructions for non- expensive meals.     
Women’s magazines and periodicals were not a source of inspiration for those who could read, didn’t have enough money and wanted get creative in the kitchen, either;   But reading behind the lines you can have a sense of crisis: advertisments for cheap meat,  the final cost of some recipes,  more recipes for leftovers, frequent use of currants and  substitutes such as stafidine* for sugar.  Many recipes were included for desserts…  sweet taste calms the fear.

But four years after the bunkruptcy and soon after the military defeat in the ill-advised Greek-Ottoman War of 1897, Greece imposed on  International Financial Control in the form of financial “aid”.  Women magazines offered more money- saving recipes and tips on how women can win the crisis on the home front.  Things had become very, very hard.


Boil 640 gr milk and soak  450 gr old bread in it for one hour. Knead the mixture.  Add equal amount of currants  and 450 gr stafidine syrup. Mix them well, add the zest of one lemon (finely chopped), and 2 beaten egg yolks.  Knead again, beat the egg whites until frothy and add them to the batter. Mix well, pour the batter into a buttered dish and bake. If desired, add ground almonds or pieces of candied fruits, citron in particular. This excellent pudding costs  only 1, 15 drachmas  and is enough for 12 persons.”

Ladies’ newspaper, April, 3, 1894, p. 8

 *Thick syrup derived from raisins… there was plenty of cheap stafidine in the market.